Community champions to carry a torch for Sheffield

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THEY are among Sheffield’s community champions – the people who work tirelessly and selflessly to help others.

And they will get their moment in the limelight next week when they carry the Olympic torch through the city.

Forty Sheffielders will take part in the relay when it arrives on Monday and departs on Tuesday – and others have been chosen to carry the flame in neighbouring areas as part of its 70-day journey to London.

The names of some of the torchbearers will be fairly well known but many will be regarded as heroes only among families, friends and contacts. All of them, though, are being given the chance to share in Sheffield’s fleeting moment of Olympic glory.

When Julie Smethurst carries the flame through Parson Cross, she hopes to have the encouragement from the roadside of Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus and other singers. She also hopes they will spur on the other torchbearers.

Julie, aged 56, who has been totally blind from birth, is described by her nominator as “truly inspirational to everyone she works with and meets”.

As well as being a self-employed braillist and consultant for the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind, she has thrown herself into the city’s cultural life through her involvement in the refurbishment of Weston Park Museum, the Crucible Theatre and City of Culture bid. Julie sings with and chairs Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus.

One of the more high-profile torchbearers will be Sheffield-based poet, writer and storyteller Debjani Chatterjee, aged 59, who works with children in schools, community centres, libraries and hospitals.

A cancer survivor, she founded the Healing Word, a support group using word-based therapies to help others. She received an MBE in 2008 for services to literature.

John Burkhill is well-known in Sheffield as ‘the mad man with a pram’, who has devoted his life to fundraising for Macmillan after the death of his wife, June. Only last Sunday, with his trademark green wig, he was leading a Father’s Day walk through the east end of the city.

At the age of 73, he has taken part in more than 850 marathons, half marathons, 10k runs and other long hauls, well on the way to his target of 1,000 races and £130,000 for charity.

The list of Sheffield torchbearers includes Chloe Rutkowski, aged 24, who will be carrying the flame through Ecclesfield, and is praised as “an ambassador for Sheffield, the UK and for communities around the world”.

After the Boxing Day tsunami, the former British diving champion spent a month rebuilding schools and teaching English to orphaned children in India. She has climbed Kilimanjaro for stroke victims, taken part in the Race for Life and Great Yorkshire Run for cancer and Alzheimer charities and she is going to Borneo to install fresh water systems in villages.

Josh Mcgill, aged 18, who will be carrying the flame through Chapeltown, was nominated by his father for spreading a ‘how to keep healthy’ message to young people. After losing both his grandparents within a year to lung cancer as a result of smoking, he has given healthy living talks across the area.

Teacher Patrick Nevin, aged 49, who will be running through Parson Cross , is described as “remarkable” for his 20 years of voluntary work, from football coaching with children to his work as a Special Constable and as a council snow warden. He is described as a “modest man who is making a difference”.

Ecclesall Scout leader Andrew Watson, aged 47, was nominated for his “unbelievable” commitment and dedication, while Ashley Jeeves, aged 14, is running in recognition of her keen involvement at an early age in Scouting.

Nurse Joan Macfarlane, aged 58, looks after the physical and mental health of refugee and asylum seeker families in Sheffield, and has worked in the NHS for 42 years. She helped to run a girls’ football club which twinned with a girls’ club in Ghana.

Bhanu Ramaswamy, aged 45, is a neurophysiotherapist specialising in people with Parkinsons.

A weekly exercise class she started ten years ago has now expanded to four weekly classes, and through Parkinsons UK, she made a video of the exercises.

She has raised funds for Parkinsons by taking part in events ranging from the Chicago Marathon to a Chatsworth walk.

Not all Sheffield people are carrying the torch through Sheffield.

At the age of 92, World War Two veteran Jack Andrew will be in the spotlight in Cleethorpes in recognition of his passionate support for local sport.

He received a Lifetime Member Award from the Cycling Touring Club, played and coached football and cricket and was a golfer for over 50 years.

“Jack is a wonderful person and an outstanding role model for all generations,” said his nominator.

Caroline Waugh, aged 45, who is carrying the flame through Conisbrough, also inspired others after brain damage let her with mobility problems.

She learned to cycle on a recumbent trike to improve her health and independence and became a Community Health Champion, encouraging other disabled people to learn to cycle. She writes a blog, I ain’t no tomato.

Dan Porter, aged 38, who battled back from a rare facial cancer six years ago, will be running through Hatfield in Doncaster. After losing his right eye, he set up a charitable foundation, which has already raised more than £60,000 for local charities.

For the full list, see